It was January 2018 when Katherine Ho, a Chinese-American biology student at the University of Southern California, was asked by one of the directors of A Cappella Academy, if she was able to sing a Mandarin cover for an unnamed film and TV project. The academy was a music summer camp she attended in high school.
"I didn't know who it was for at that time," Katherine Ho told The Jakarta Post recently, adding that she almost turned down the offer because of her hectic schedule. "I got in touch with the vocal contractor and he sent me the demo for [Coldplay's] 'Yellow'."
With the help of her parents, in less than 24 hours Ho recorded the Mandarin cover.
"My parents are native Mandarin speakers. They're first-generation immigrants from China who came to the [United States] for graduate school. They helped me a lot in the recording process," Ho said. "I do understand Mandarin very well, but I'm not as fluent [as they are]. I'm not used to singing in Chinese, so that was kind of daunting for me at first."
But Ho "absolutely freaked out" when she found out that the song was for Crazy Rich Asians, a movie based on Kevin Kwan's best-selling novel. "Yellow" is played following an intense mahjong scene between Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) and other crucial scenes that determine the film's ending. Ho's powerful, haunting voice also landed the track at the top of Spotify Viral 50 Global chart.
"The Mandarin version is not a direct translation from the English one, but the lyrics are beautiful nonetheless," wrote Ho on her Instagram post. "To me, they tell a story of being scared to take a risk on someone or something, but eventually taking that leap of faith and watching love win in the end."
Ho admitted she has known Coldplay's 2000 single since she was 8 years old. Although she has not been able to meet the British band, she got the chance to meet director Jon M. Chu who stopped by during the recording process.
For Ho, who was a contestant in season 10 of NBC's singing competition The Voice, the film changes how she viewed herself.
"Growing up Asian was always a source of pride at times, but it also made me kind of insecure," Ho said. "It's not that I had any blatant racism at me, but I always felt like I was less than others because the way I looked or that I should be happy with being in the sidelines because that's where I belonged in society."
Ho believed Crazy Rich Asians influenced her self-confidence.
"I've never been proud to be Asian and I wish I could tell my younger self how wrong I was to have all those insecurities and just to embrace who I am," she said. But apart from representation, she thought the film also presented a universal story about love and self-realisation.
The 19-year old musician remains humble following the cover's success.
"Growing up, I felt like an invisible kid, so [when] people actually notice my voice and appreciate my art - it's like, thank you so much for making me feel so loved," Ho said.
For now, Ho is still unsure whether she should pursue a music career or study biology, especially because she is passionate about both. But she admitted that the song's success has really inspired her and opened her eyes.
"Right now I'm so torn, but I'm definitely working on my own music and I hope to release some content in the near future," she said.